SPORTS IN ENGLAND
April 25, 2000
England is, believe it or not, a nation of sportsmen. We value our sport, and
like to think of England as being one of the best in the world when it comes to
sports like football, rugby and cricket. Unfortunately, our national teams in
these sports never quite manage to live up to this, rather hopeful, image! However,
because sport is so important to us, sporting terms and phrases are now quite
common in the English language. This week, I'm going to describe a handful of these
phrases, what they mean, and how they came about.
Our first sport: Boxing. Over a hundred years ago, bare-knuckle boxing matches were
common. The number of rounds was unlimited and so the match would continue go on
until one competitor submitted or was unable to continue. To judge the ability of
the competitors to continue, two parallel lines were drawn / scratched in the earth
at the centre of the ring. At the start of each round, each boxer had to come to his
line. If he did, then he was "up to scratch". If he didn't or couldn't, then he was
"not up to scratch" and so lost the match. These expressions are now used to describe
the fitness of someone or something for his / her / its intended function.
Our second sport: Cricket. In cricket, the objective of the bowler (the man who
throws the ball) is to knock two "bails" (short horizontal sticks) off the top of
three "stumps" (longer, vertical sticks). The object of the batsman is to defend
these bails by hitting the ball away. Occasionally, the bowler will throw the ball,
and the batsman will step forward, attempt to hit it, and fail. When this happens,
the ball may bounce behind the batsman, and be caught by the "wicket keep". He may
then use it to knock the bails off the stumps. It is then said that he has "stumped"
the batsman, or that the batsman has been "stumped". Today, anyone who is fails to
think of the correct action for a situation is said to be "stumped".
Staying with cricket for the moment: Occasionally, the bowler may throw the ball hard
into the ground in front of the batsman. This causes the ball to bounce high up towards
the batsman's head. This is a unnatural move, and usually surprises the batsman who has
to duck quickly to avoid being hit. Today, people who have received a big surprise can
be said to be "bowled over". This can also apply to people who fall in love at first
sight - one person is "bowled over" with the other.
Our third sport: Snooker. Snooker is a game like pool - the objective is to use a
stick (called a "cue") to knock a white ball against a coloured ball, to knock that
ball into a pocket. In some instances, a player may be clever enough to position the
balls such that his / her opponent cannot directly hit the coloured ball with the
white ball. This difficult situation is called a "snooker". Anyone caught in it is
said to be "snookered". So, to be "snookered" is to be put into a very difficult or
impossible situation. Going back to the cue: The cue is specially shaped to be narrow
at one end (with a tip for striking the balls with) and wide at the other end (easy
to hold). It would be madness for a player to hold the narrow end, and hit with the
big end. (s)he would be said to have "the wrong end of the stick". Therefore, in
everyday speech, to "have the wrong end of the stick" is to have the wrong idea about
a situation or a way of doing things.
Finally: horse racing. There are many horse related expressions, but I'll just
mention two of them. Firstly, in a race, a horse with its "nose in front" is the horse
that is currently winning or leading the race. So, to have your "nose in front" means
that you are winning, or doing better than someone else. The second expression is more
funny: "straight from the horse's mouth". If a horse is ill, its owner could ask the
trainer what is wrong. Alternatively, (s)he could go and examine the horse and find out
"at first hand". Therefore, the to "get it straight from the horse's mouth" is to go
to the original source of the information and ask them.
There is a funny story about concerning this expression. The expression is not meant
to be insulting, but some people do not like being compared to a horse. Every Christmas
day, our Queen makes a live speech to the nation on TV. Occasionally, the newspapers get
hold of the text of the speech several days before Christmas, and publish it. The palace
will then sue the papers in the courts. The last time this happened, a TV news team made
a report about the court case by saying that "The Sun [a newspaper] must prove that it
is in the nation's interest to read the text of the Queen's speech before Christmas, as
opposed to getting it straight from the horse's mouth on Christmas day"........
If you'd like to hear about some more expressions, or if you'd like to suggest a topic
for an article, then please don't delay to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
by Duncan - Great Britain, enjoys writing to penpals from all over the world
© April 2000 English on the Internet www.aj.cz